Born to a Welsh-speaking family in Aberdare in 1944, Rhian Samuel has spent her working life as a composer, writer and academic in Britain and the USA. Now based in Aberdyfi, she is as busy as ever, with recent performances at the Presteigne and Machynlleth Festivals, new publications from Stainer & Bell and Tŷ Cerdd and CD recordings on Lorelt and Willowhayne Records. In October 2023 she was the subject BBC R3’s 'Composer of the Week' programme and this month her 80th birthday will be celebrated at Trinity College, Cambridge with performances of her music (see link below).
In a profession that continues to be male dominated, Rhian has been a strong and effective voice in the long struggle for parity of opportunity and recognition for female musicians and composers and she is co-editor of the ground-breaking New Grove/Norton Dictionary of Women Composers (1994). However she does not confine herself to the study of women’s works; in fact, her most extensive writings have been on the operas of Harrison Birtwistle, undertaken at the invitation of the composer.
Rhian is fascinated by classical music of all styles, particularly American repertoire and early music (her PhD was a study of 16th century vocal music). Her music is influenced by her rich Welsh literary and musical heritage, the landscape of her present home in mid-Wales, the time she spent in the US and by many of the leading artists with whom she has collaborated.
She has produced a diverse and extensive catalogue of orchestral, chamber, vocal and choral music which includes over 140 published works. Notable amongst her large-scale pieces are Elegy-Symphony, premiered in 1981 by the St Louis Symphony Orchestra under Leonard Slatkin; Clytemnestra for soprano and orchestra, the 2020 recording of which was short-listed for a Gramophone Award; and Tirluniau / Landscapes which was performed at the 2000 BBC Proms BBC National Orchestra of Wales with Tadaaki Otaka. Rhian has written for many renowned solo singers with orchestra, piano or chamber ensemble and has 20 song-cycles to her name, along with numerous works for choir such as Love bade me welcome recorded on CD by the Choir of New College, Oxford.
Rhian is the recipient of a number of international awards including first prize in the 1979 Greenwich Festival, the ASCAP-Rudolph Nissim Award in 1983 and more recently was awarded the Glyndwr Medal for services to the Arts in Wales.
Rhian Samuel selects pieces that provide an introduction to her music:
▶ Rhian Samuel in Five (or Six) Pieces